arithmetic of active management

The Seven Roles of an Advisor

Posted on 12/05/2015. Filed under: A step by step approach to producing a financial plan, academic approach to investing, Active v Passive, arithmetic of active management, asset allocation, cash flow based modelling, cfp. chartered financial planner, Cheshire, chris wicks cfp, ChrisWicksCFP, Efficient Markets, Evidence Based Investment, Factors of investment, financial planning, hidden costs of investment, Increased ISA Allowances, Index Investing, ineffectiveness of active fund management, investment, lack of predictability, Lessons from past financial crises, Market timing, passive investment | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

What is a financial advisor for? One view is that advisors have unique insights into market direction that give their clients an advantage. But of the many roles a professional advisor should play, soothsayer is not one of them.

The truth is that no-one knows what will happen next in investment markets. And if anyone really did have a working crystal ball, it is unlikely they would be plying their trade as an advisor, a broker, an analyst or a financial journalist.

Some folk may still think an advisor’s role is to deliver them market-beating returns year after year. Generally, those are the same people who believe good advice equates to making accurate forecasts.

But in reality, the value a professional advisor brings is not dependent on the state of markets. Indeed, their value can be even more evident when volatility, and emotions, are running high.

The best of this new breed play multiple and nuanced roles with their clients, beginning with the needs, risk appetites and circumstances of each individual and irrespective of what is going on in the world.

None of these roles involves making forecasts about markets or economies. Instead, the roles combine technical expertise with an understanding of how money issues intersect with the rest of people’s complex lives.

Indeed, there are at least seven hats an advisor can wear to help clients without ever once having to look into a crystal ball:

The expert: Now, more than ever, investors need advisors who can provide client-centred expertise in assessing the state of their finances and developing risk-aware strategies to help them meet their goals.

The independent voice: The global financial turmoil of recent years demonstrated the value of an independent and objective voice in a world full of product pushers and salespeople.

The listener: The emotions triggered by financial uncertainty are real. A good advisor will listen to clients’ fears, tease out the issues driving those feelings and provide practical long-term answers.

The teacher: Getting beyond the fear-and-flight phase often is just a matter of teaching investors about risk and return, diversification, the role of asset allocation and the virtue of discipline.

The architect: Once these lessons are understood, the advisor becomes an architect, building a long-term wealth management strategy that matches each person’s risk appetites and lifetime goals.

The coach: Even when the strategy is in place, doubts and fears inevitably will arise. The advisor at this point becomes a coach, reinforcing first principles and keeping the client on track.

The guardian: Beyond these experiences is a long-term role for the advisor as a kind of lighthouse keeper, scanning the horizon for issues that may affect the client and keeping them informed.
These are just seven valuable roles an advisor can play in understanding and responding to clients’ whole-of-life needs that are a world away from the old notions of selling product off the shelf or making forecasts.

For instance, a person may first seek out an advisor purely because of their role as an expert. But once those credentials are established, the main value of the advisor in the client’s eyes may be as an independent voice.

Knowing the advisor is independent—and not plugging product—can lead the client to trust the advisor as a listener or a sounding board, as someone to whom they can share their greatest hopes and fears.

From this point, the listener can become the teacher, the architect, the coach and ultimately the guardian. Just as people’s needs and circumstances change over time, so the nature of the advice service evolves.

These are all valuable roles in their own right and none is dependent on forces outside the control of the advisor or client, such as the state of the investment markets or the point of the economic cycle.

However you characterise these various roles, good financial advice ultimately is defined by the patient building of a long-term relationship founded on the values of trust and independence and knowledge of each individual.

Now, how can you put a price on that?

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Top 10 Investment Guidelines

Posted on 24/02/2015. Filed under: academic approach to investing, Active v Passive, arithmetic of active management, asset allocation, cfp. chartered financial planner, Cheshire, chris wicks, chris wicks cfp, ChrisWicksCFP, Dimensional, Efficient Markets, Evidence Based Investment, Factors of investment, financial planning, hidden costs of investment, Index Investing, ineffectiveness of active fund management, investment, lack of predictability, Lessons from past financial crises, Market timing, passive investment, Sale, Sources of financial advice, TER, UK investor compensation, William F Sharpe |

The media would have you believe that a successful investment experience comes from picking stocks, timing your entry and exit points, making accurate predictions and outguessing the market. Is there a better way?

It’s true that some people do get lucky by making bets on certain stocks and sectors or getting in or out at the right time or correctly guessing movements in interest rates or currencies. But depending on luck is simply not a sustainable strategy.

The alternative approach to investment may not sound as exciting, but is also a lot less work. It essentially means reducing as far as possible the influence of fortune, taking a long-term view and starting with your own needs and risk appetite.

Of course, risk can never be completely eliminated and there are no guarantees about anything in life. But you can increase your chances of a successful investment experience if you keep these 10 guidelines in mind:

Let the market work for you. Prices of securities in competitive financial markets represent the collective judgment of millions of investors based on current information. So, instead of second guessing the market, work with it.

Investment is not speculation. What is promoted in the media as investment is often just speculation. It’s about making short-term and concentrated bets. Few people succeed this way, particularly after you take fees into account.

Take a long-term view. Over time, capital markets provide a positive rate of return. As an investor risking your capital, you have a right to the share of that wealth. But keep in mind, the return is not there every day, month or year.

Consider the drivers of returns. Differences in returns are explained by certain dimensions identified by academic research as pervasive, persistent and robust. So it makes sense to build portfolios around these.

Practise smart diversification. A sound portfolio doesn’t just capture reliable sources of expected return. It reduces unnecessary risks like holding too few stocks, sectors or countries. Diversification helps to overcome that.

Avoid market timing. You never know which markets will be the best performers from year to year. Being well diversified means you’re positioned to capture the returns whenever and wherever they appear.

Manage your emotions. People who let their emotions dictate their decisions can end up buying at the top when greed is dominant and selling at the bottom when fear takes over. The alternative is to remain realistic.

Look beyond the headlines. The media is by necessity focused on the short term. This can give you a distorted impression of the market. Keep up with the news by all means, but you don’t have to act on it.

Keep costs low. Day to day moves in the market are temporary, but costs are permanent. Over time, they can put a real dent in your wealth plans. That’s why it makes sense to be mindful of fees and expenses.

Focus on what you can control. You have no control over the markets, but in consultation with advisor acting in your interests you can create a low-cost, diversified portfolio that matches your needs and risk tolerance.

That’s the whole story in a nutshell. Investment is really not that complicated. In fact, the more complicated that people make it sound the more you should be sceptical.

The truth is markets are so competitive that you can save yourself much time, trouble and expense by letting them work for you. That means structuring a portfolio across the broad dimensions of return, being mindful of cost and focusing on your own needs and circumstances, not what the media is trying to sell you.

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Who would predict the price of oil?

Posted on 06/12/2014. Filed under: A step by step approach to producing a financial plan, academic approach to investing, Active v Passive, Altrincham, arithmetic of active management, asset allocation, cfp. chartered financial planner, Cheshire, chris wicks, chris wicks cfp, ChrisWicksCFP, Dimensional, Efficient Markets, Evidence Based Investment, Factors of investment, financial planning, hidden costs of investment, Increased ISA Allowances, Index Investing, ineffectiveness of active fund management, investment, lack of predictability, Lessons from past financial crises, Market timing, passive investment, Professor Kenneth French, PTR, Retirement Options, retirement planning, Sources of financial advice, William F Sharpe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The price of crude oil has fallen around 40 per cent since a recent peak in June this year. This has a profound effect on economies and markets around the world as the cost of manufacturing and transporting goods falls along with oil producers’ income and the currencies of oil-rich countries.
The theory goes that consumer spending will rise because people have more disposable income; that inflation will fall as the price of goods eases; and that companies with high energy bills will become more profitable. If lower prices hold, the effect might become political and environmental as the balance of world power shifts from oil exporters to oil importers, and the impetus to develop cheaper clean energy wanes. Oil seeps so deep into the global economy you might think that to be a successful investor you need to have an accurate view on its price and its impact on asset prices. But you would be wrong.

No-one with an opinion about oil knows whether their view is right or wrong, and only the changing price will confirm which they are. Market prices are a fair reflection of the balance of opinion because they are created by many buyers and sellers agreeing on individual transactions. As an investor you can take a view of whether that balance – that price – is right but, like all other people with an opinion, you have no way of knowing whether you are right or wrong until the price moves.

Knowing this, it seems irrational to take a view (or a risk) on something so random as the direction of the oil price. In fact, why would one take a view on anything related to the changing price of oil; the US economy, for example; or the price of Shell; or Deutsche Post; or anything else?
The rational approach is to let capital markets run their course and to have a sufficiently diversified portfolio that allows you to relax in the knowledge that, over time, you will benefit from the wealth-generating power of your investments as a whole; without risking your wealth on a prediction that might go one way or the other.

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Beware of the hidden risks of low-risk investing

Posted on 22/10/2014. Filed under: A step by step approach to producing a financial plan, academic approach to investing, Active v Passive, arithmetic of active management, asset allocation, cash flow based modelling, cfp. chartered financial planner, Cheshire, chris wicks, chris wicks cfp, ChrisWicksCFP, Evidence Based Investment, investment, Lessons from past financial crises, passive investment, retirement planning, Sale, Sources of financial advice, Uncategorized, William F Sharpe |

Beware of the hidden risks of low-risk investing.

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What price for Brazil to win?

Posted on 05/06/2014. Filed under: academic approach to investing, Active v Passive, arithmetic of active management, asset allocation, chris wicks cfp, ChrisWicksCFP, Dimensional, Evidence Based Investment, Index Investing, ineffectiveness of active fund management, investment, lack of predictability, Lessons from past financial crises, passive investment |

Every four years, in the build-up to the World Cup, lots of people attempt to predict the results of the competition.

Economists at Goldman Sachs, one of the world’s biggest investment banks, suggest that Brazil is the overwhelming favourite with Argentina trailing a distant second. England has a 1.4 per cent chance of winning, according to the bank.

Stephen Hawking has used a scientific method to calculate that England’s best chances lie in a 4-3-3 formation, playing in temperate conditions, with a European referee, kicking off at 3pm. Even so, he also backs Brazil to win.

And who can forget Paul, the captive German octopus, who correctly predicted the results of all of Germany’s matches in the 2010 World Cup?

People go to great lengths to make credible predictions but it is rarely worth the effort because seldom are they accurate. A more meaningful alternative to making individual predictions is to use the aggregate of all the analysis expressed in book-makers odds. Brazil are currently 11/4 favourites.

We use this idea as the root of our investment philosophy. We do not believe it is possible to reliably predict future events and think it is a waste of money to attempt to do so. We assume that all the relevant information has been taken account of by other people and we trust the aggregate of all analysis.

That aggregate is expressed as the price of a security and is the most reliable expression of the company’s prospects and expected returns.

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Hidden Fund Costs could damage your investment performance

Posted on 29/12/2009. Filed under: academic approach to investing, arithmetic of active management, asset allocation, cfp. chartered financial planner, Cheshire, chris wicks, chris wicks cfp, ChrisWicksCFP, Dimensional, Evidence Based Investment, hidden costs of investment, Index Investing, ineffectiveness of active fund management, investment, passive investment, PTR, Sale, Sources of financial advice, TER |

Most investors are aware that their funds levy annual charges against their funds. These comprise the Annual Management Charge which ranges from 0.1% to around 1.8% or more for UK mutual funds. In addition the funds are required to publish certain additional fund charges such as custody and legal costs. These two items make up the Total Expense Ratio (TER).

Many investors are unaware of the fact that, in addition to the TER, funds incur costs in two other ways. One of these, the Portfolio Turnover Rate (PTR), is caused by the costs which fund managers incur when the buy and sell stocks. The more they do this, the greater the PTR. In the UK the estimated cost of a sale and purchase is around 1.8%, when Stamp Duty is taken into account. The average UK fund turns over its portfolio by around 100% a year, thus adding around 1.8% onto investors’ costs. Many funds have PTRs of twice or more this level.

A further area in which investors can incur costs is the price at which funds are able to deal in their shares. Generally shares are offered for sale or purchase by market makers in batches of say, £250,000 or £1Million. On dealers’ screens the best priced batches are generally shown at the top of the list with prices getting worse further down the list. A fund needing to offload £10Million of a particular stock could therefore find its self selling via a number of market makers and not all at the best price available on the market. This can be a substantial hidden drag on fund performance, especially for very large funds or those which trade actively.

So what can be done about this? Bearing in mind that the method of access to the market (fund selction) is very much a secondary decision, well behind Asset Allocation, the optimum way to keep fund costs down is to invest in passive or tracker funds. These can be expected to provide returns in line with the performance of the market at low cost. In addition certain passive funds engage in dealing strategies designed to optimise the price at which deals are carried out.

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Active Fund Management is a Zero Sum Game

Posted on 10/06/2009. Filed under: arithmetic of active management, ChrisWicksCFP, Dimensional, Evidence Based Investment, n-trust, Professor Kenneth French |

In this video, Professor Kenneth French explains about why active fund management is always doomed to under-perform the market.

Chris Wicks CFP
I help you achieve your lifetime goals for reasons that are important to you

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Why Active Investing is a Negative Sum Game

Posted on 06/06/2009. Filed under: academic approach to investing, Active v Passive, arithmetic of active management, asset allocation, ineffectiveness of active fund management |

In this article well known academics Eugene Fama and Kenneth French reflect on Nobel Laureate William F Sharpe’s 1991 article on the arithmetic of active fund management. This has already been discussed on this blog and you can see a copy of that article here

Cutting through the slightly complex jargon that is used by Fama and French,the essence of what they are saying is that the combined portfolios all active investors have the same weighting in shares as the market as a whole. This means that the combined portfolios can only perform the same as the market, less their costs. It also means that the only way in which an active investor can outperform the market is to do so at the expense of other active investors.

In contrast, passive investors also all hold the same weighting in shares as the market as a whole. This means that their portfolios should perform the same as the market, less their costs. However, as their costs are less than those of active investors, passive investors as a group must outperform active investors.

This article does not seek to deny that some active investors do outperform the market. It is just that their gains have been made at the expense of other equally clever active investors. Other research has shown that winners tend not to repeat and that on the whole, they do not tend to remain winners for very long.

When considering whether to invest actively or passively you have to answer the question ‘Are you feeling lucky?’ For active investors the answer must be ‘Yes’ – in the face of the evidence. For passive investors the answer is ‘No – but at least I will be assured of returns that essentially replicate the market less my costs which are substantially less than for active portfolios’.

From a financial planning point of view, investing should not be seen as a game. Investments are not an end in themselves. Instead they are the means by which individuals fund for the serious financial goals, which they need to achieve in order to lead the future lifestyles that they desire. Speculation on which fund manager is likely to provide better returns than another, in the face of evidence that this is likely to be an unsuccessful strategy, has no place in this process.

Chris Wicks CFP
I help you achieve your lifetime goals for reasons that are important to you

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The Arithmetic of Active Management

Posted on 07/03/2009. Filed under: academic approach to investing, arithmetic of active management, William F Sharpe |

In the video featured below, Professor Kenneth French mentioned the paper written by Nobel Laureate Economist William F Sharpe. Well here it is.

This type of information needs to be seen in a completely different light to what those of us who are more enlightened call financial porn because it is the informed view of a very highly rated and acclaimed academic. Unlike fund management companies who pump out marketing material designed to entice unwitting investors to part from their money William F Sharpe and others like him have spent decades trying to get to the truth. They have no axe to grind.

The question you have to ask your self is, Do you want to be one of the (as William F Sharpe puts it) “individual investors … foolish enough to pay the added costs of the institutions’ active management via inferior performance“. Of course there is also the famous Dirty Harry saying “What you want to ask yourself is … Are You Feeling Lucky?

For more information on William F Sharpe see this

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